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Within and Without

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Pig and Whistle story universe

BEEP BEEP BEEP!!!

I groan, allowing some bubbles to escape and float to the surface. Ugh, where is that bloody alarm clock? I reach around the bottom of my tank and finally find it: a small digital alarm clock sealed in a plastic bag with a few rocks at the bottom to weigh it down. I click it off and roll around a few times to wake up before I climb out of my tank onto a draining board and stretch.

My mom is standing in the doorway “Good morning, sweetie! I was just coming to wake you for work. Are you hungry?”

“Yeah, I could do with a bucket of something.” I say with a wide grin.

She rolls her eyes. “Sorry, I ate all the chum last night for a snack;” she says sarcastically. “Now get up; eggs and toast are on the table.”

After Mom leaves I grab a nearby towel and dry off before hoping down from the draining board and engaging in my typical morning routine. I comb my hair carefully to avoid banging my dorsal fin, brush my hundred or so pearly whites, and throw on some shorts and button up my favorite red Hawaiian shirt—the one my dad got me for my birthday the year after my change—it has little flying pineapples on it I get a kick out of.

As I look myself over in the mirror I can’t help but grin—it’s another kickin’ day as me, sweet! Sure, I might be a tad on the optimistic side but I’ve got a lot to be happy about. I went from 110 pound weakling dork to this 300 pound solid muscle awesome shark hybrid thanks to the Torch and TFOR. Even better, I beat the odds and got almost a perfect mutation! I love it, Muscles, tough skin, teeth that grow back in seconds, good senses that are even better under water—oh and I can breath underwater too, how freaking cool is that? Before, I could hardly do a chin up, or even lift any weights; no matter what I did I could not build muscle, and here I am, flexing in front of my mirror like some Merman God from TV.

My reminiscing is interrupted as my mom yells “Come and get it James honey!” in her “get your ass down here already” voice.

“Cooooming!” I call back. “And for the hundredth time it’s Jimbari!” After the change I wasn’t really James Barrows anymore. I wanted something cooler, so I just gave ‘Jim’ and “Barrow” a twist—cool huh?

I slip into my sandals—made with extra tough leather to keep from wearing out against my shale-like skin—and double time it downstairs to a platter of fried eggs and a loaf of toast smeared with peach jelly.

As I start to dig in my mom hands me a big cup of coffee. “I will be having company over for dinner so if you want you can go to that Pork and Beans place of yours you love so much.”

I groan. “Mom, it’s the Pig and Whistle for Pete sakes…yeesh” I swallow another egg whole and bite into some toast “And thanks; is it Sally and Dave?”

“Yes, and they’re bringing Nicola along too, so you might not want to stay out too long; I know how much you like her.”

“MOM!!!”

I blush dark grey and glare at her as I gulp down the coffee before my gills filter it. Nico was THE prettiest girl in the world—not to mention the one I’ve had a crush on since the dawn of time (aka preschool). Of course, since her dad is not only my boss but someone who would rather eat his own arm than see his daughter go out with a teefer, I’ve had trouble plucking up the courage to ask her out.

“Don’t you dare say a word to her!! I mean it! I swear I’ll eat your car keys!”

But Mom just laughs as she leaves for work. I hear her pulling out as I run back to my room to grab my backpack and begin my twenty minute sprint to work at the construction site for the new mall.

I arrive just as my friends Dallas and Roger pull up.

“Yo! Jimmy! What’s up man?” Dallas shouts as we high five

“Yeah, what’s up, Fishbait?” Roger adds as I scowl and (carefully!) punch him on the shoulder, but it was all in good fun. The twins were like brothers to me after all.

I throw my bag into their truck and grab my Re-Breather out of it. A handy little gizmo I just clamp around my neck and gills to keep them wet and help me breath. Just plain air is hard in the summer when it reaches 90 to 100 degrees on the work site. After fastening it in place I turn back to the twins. “Hey guys, I gotta leave early, Nico is coming over and I want to hit the PAW before she gets to my place—think you can cover for me?”

“Sure man, sure.” Dallas snickers and shoots me a look “You gonna make a move or can I finally ask her out?”

I click my teeth and glare. “Yeah I’m going to…tonight…or tomorrow…eventually…”

“Hey! Get to work! This ain’t tea and crackers time ladies!” I turn and see Dave, my boss, standing behind us. Rog and Dal bail on me—figures, those wusses.

“Err…hey boss!” I wave weakly. “Good morning sir!”

“I need those bricks and the left half of section nine finished before you leave today.” He says, looking over my shoulder rather than at me directly. I mutter a “yes sir…” looking and feeling incredibly stupid. Dave is notorious for not liking us—the ones hit with TFOR—and says teefer like a curse word. He can be a jerk sometimes but I really can’t complain that much about it since the guy’s all bark and no bite. Besides, every day I get to show off how a teefer has the strength of five of his norm workers put together!

I bite back anything I might get fired for and instead just click my teeth—something I find I do when annoyed—and head over to the pallets filled with 400 pound cement bricks. I heft one up over each shoulder and haul them across the lot and position them so the concrete crew can pour the start of the parking garage tomorrow.

6:30 rolls around and I finish the last pallet, then gather them up and stack the not-so-broken ones in a neat pile, then smash the unusable ones and throw them into the dumpster.

I jog all the way to Pig and Whistle and start fiddling with the strap my Re-Breather as I head for the bar. The darn thing goes on easily enough but my webbed fingers always have trouble getting the clasp open again, not to mention—

“Yip!”

My train of thought is interrupted as I almost run into a little fox guy dressed in actual clothes (Huh, see something new everyday. Oh look at that—he’s got little paw prints on the front, cute)

“Oh hey sorry little guy, you alright?” I say with a grin to show him I’m not as scary as I look; but he just squeaks something and bolts off. Damn it, I did it again. That’s the major drawback of looking how I do: people freak out. Feeling a little dejected, I finish getting my Re-Breather off.

“Hey” I say to Gordy as I hand him my breather. “Can you refill this and put it on my tab?”

“Sure thing kid.” He takes it and walks off. I don’t even know how to open the darn thing but he can refill it. Go figure.

I absently drum my fingers on the counter trying not to scratch the wood and take a look around the bar. Not much going on—just a bunch of people chatting with each other and swapping stories over drinks—usual fare really. I try and find the fox kid but I can’t spot him in the crowd. Sighing, I make a note to track him down later to apologize—I hate it when people are afraid of me.

My eyes sweep across the door and I swallow my tongue as SHE walks in. I feel my heart stomp against my chest. What the heck is Nico doing here!? I thought she was going to be at my house with her folks? Damn, I bet my mom had something to do with it. Her keys are sooo gone.

“Hey Jimbari, I figured you’d be here.” She says with a smile and my heart stops. God she’s beautiful.

“I uh…hey…yeah, I’m here” Smooth…idiot

She giggles and sits on the stool next to me. Since I’m a good two to three feet taller than her I squat down on the floor and pull my legs up to reach her eye level.

“What are you doing here?” I mutter like a total fool; she came to see you stupid!!

“Just thought I’d see if you were here and check this place out. My friend, Alice, said it was really awesome.”

“Yeah Gordy’s a good guy and the food is alright; I can’t taste much of it but everyone likes the drinks are best anyway. I like the pineapple soda he’s got, pretty sweet but you know my hiccup problem. So would you like something? I could order you a drink, or maybe something to eat?” God shut your freaking mouth you babbling moron! I slap myself mentally.

She just giggles and pulls some of her curly hair behind her ear as she scoots forward. “Nah, I figured we could head to your place early and eat there. What do you think? Want to walk with me?”

“I uh..walk? With you? Home?” Wait, what? Really?

“Yeah come on, looks like the um…bartender has your breather ready”

“Wha?” Sure as heck it was refilled and waiting for me. Gordy winks and turns away as I grab the breather and refasten it.

“So…walk...home?” God I’m doomed…

She takes my hand and I freeze, am I dreaming? I stare down numbly as we begin walking down the street, mostly devoid of people.

“How was work?” she asks, giving my hand a reassuring ‘yes this is really happening’ squeeze at my horribly embarrassing stuttering.

“Fuh..fine…finished the parking garage foundation. How was school?”

“Boring as usual. Being a teacher’s aid at the college can be a real drag sometimes… though Derik Manson asked me out for Friday night.”

I blinked. He what?! Derik was the football jock from hell in my opinion and a total man whore. He’s probably dated every girl in town! I am so going to maim his car for that…

“What did you say?”

“I told him no, I was busy that night”

“Really?” Take that you preppy jerk! “What are you doing?”

“I have another date already” Good lord I am the slowest, stupidest—“with you. You’re taking me to the movies and dinner at seven sharp” I am?

“I…We…Awesome!”

She laughs “What?”

Shoot, I said that out loud, nice job moron! I take a breath—which makes my breather bubble, ruining any sort of Cool I might have salvaged.

“Err I mean, Nicola, will you go to the movies with me this Friday?”

She smiles and curls a finger making me bend down to her level. “I would love to Jimbari.” She says and…and then…she KISSES ME!!! OH MY GOD!!! A kiss!! From her!! OH HELL YEAH!! I spend the rest of the night in a daze as I drop her off at home and stumble back to my house. She KISSED me! And I have a DATE!

Score one for the shark man!